Psalm 80 Study Notes
80:1 The imperative form for listen is a polite request, as from an inferior to his superior. Shepherd of Israel is a metaphor indicating God’s intimate relationship with his people as protector and provider (23:1; 121:4). This metaphor connects this psalm with the concluding verse of Ps 79. Joseph was a name for Israel normally associated with the northern tribes. Enthroned between the cherubim refers to the ark of the covenant on which the presence of the Lord resided, emphasizing his kingship (18:10; 97:2; 99:1). The ark, sometimes referred to as the Lord’s “footstool,” preceded Israel in holy battle. Shine is meant in the sense that a star rises; it could picture the coming of the Lord in his glory (94:1; Dt 33:2).
80:2 Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh represent the tribes of Israel, settled in central Palestine. Benjamin means “son of the right hand,” an allusion to vv. 15,17. Rally alludes to Is 63:15,17 in language referring to God’s inactivity.
80:4 The psalmist appealed to the Lord God of Armies. This evokes divine warrior language, typical imagery in ancient Near Eastern cultures. Since Israel’s current circumstances were a direct result of God’s judgment, the writer asked how long (cp. 79:5; 83:1; 88:14), focusing on the duration of God’s wrath.
80:6 The Lord caused strife between the northern tribes and their neighbors.
80:8 Vine from Egypt alludes to the exodus (Ex 15:17). However, the metaphor extends as far back as Joseph (Gn 49:22), who is characterized as a fruitful vine. Early imagery of Israel as a sprout or branch planted by the Lord in Canaan reached full development in the Prophets, particularly Jeremiah, who used the planting metaphor throughout his book (Jr 1:10; 12:10; Ezk 17:1-10; 19:10-14).
80:9-11 The expansion of the vine denotes the spread of territorial and political influence. The Davidic Empire eventually occupied territory in Canaan extending from the Mediterranean Sea to the Euphrates River.
80:12-13 Linguistic and contextual similarities between vv. 12-13 and imagery in Is 5:1-7 suggest an intentional allusion to the prophet. The vineyard walls protected the crop from wild animals. In Isaiah, the Lord planted a vineyard and tended it carefully, yet the plants produced bad fruit (Is 5:1-4). Consequently, the Lord removed the protective hedges surrounding the vineyard and compromised the walls (Is 5:5), rendering the land barren and useless (Is 5:6). The vineyard, representing Israel, belonged to the Lord of Armies, and the plants corresponded to the people. Similarly, God permitted the break in the wall protecting the vineyard (Israel), giving boars (foreigners) access to the fruit (Israel).
80:14 In a sequential list of actions (return . . . look down . . . see; take care), the people’s perceived absence of God relates to suffering, captivity, and oppression. The turning away of God’s face (v. 3) indicates God’s refusal to respond. The psalmist implored the Lord to “turn” his attention back toward the nation and restore it (Is 63:15-18).
80:15 The right hand signifies a privileged position or serves as the instrument that executes divine action. Root (lit “stem or shoot”) occurs only here. If the metaphor is meant to continue, son could refer to a scion or shoot; it alludes to the “son of man” in v. 17.
80:16 The Lord himself planted the root (Israel) and nurtured it, only to permit its destruction in judgment. At the rebuke of your countenance signifies that sinful people could not survive in the presence of God.
80:17-18 Let your hand be denotes a request from a subordinate to a superior. The transfer of divine power flows through God’s hand and into his agent. The man at your right hand is usually a king (110:1; cp. Is 45:1) who received divine appointment and approval. In the NT, Christ is seated at the right hand of God, identical with God in authority, power, and holiness (Heb 1:3).